Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung August 1848

The Russian Note [197]

Source: MECW Volume 7, p. 307;
Written: on August 1, 1848;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 64, August 3, 1848.

Cologne, August 1. Russian diplomacy has invaded Germany for the time being not with an army, but with a Note in the form of a circular to all Russian Embassies. This Note found its first lodgings in the official organ of the German Imperial Administration at Frankfurt and it was soon also well received at other official and unofficial newspapers. The more extraordinary it is that Mr. Nesselrode, the Russian Foreign Minister, should indulge in this sort of public statecraft, the mote important it is to subject this action to a closer inspection.

During the happy period preceding 1848, German censorship saw to it that no word could be printed which might incur the displeasure of the Russian Government, not even under the heading of Greece or Turkey.

Since the evil March days, however, this convenient expedient is unfortunately no longer available. Nesselrode therefore becomes a journalist.

According to him it is the “German press, whose hatred for Russia seemed for a moment suspended”, which with respect to the Russian “security measures” along the frontier had seen fit to make the “most unfounded assumptions and commentaries”. After this restrained introduction there follow stronger words which read:

“The German press is daily spreading the most absurd rumours and the most malicious calumnies against us.”

Soon, however, there is talk of “raving declamations”, “madmen” and “perfidious malevolence”.

At the next press trial, a German Public Prosecutor may well use the Russian Note in his evidence as an authenticated document. be And why is the German, especially the “democratic” press to attacked, and if possible, to be destroyed? Because it misjudges the Russian Emperor’s “benevolent as well as unselfish sentiments” and his “openly peaceful intentions"!

“Has Germany ever had to complain about us?” asks Nesselrode on behalf of his ruler. [Nicholas I] “During the entire time when the Continent had to endure the oppressive rule of a conqueror, Russia shed her blood to help Germany preserve her integrity and independence. The Russian territory had long been liberated when Russia still continued to follow her German allies to all the battlefields of Europe, and to assist them.”

In spite of her numerous and well-paid agents, Russia is labouring under the gravest delusion if she thinks that in the year 1848 she can arouse sympathies by evoking the memory of the so-called wars of liberation. And are we to believe that Russia shed her blood for us Germans?

Apart from the fact that before 1812 Russia “supported” Germany’s “integrity and independence” by an open alliance and secret treaties with Napoleon, she was later sufficiently indemnified for her so-called aid by robbery and pillage. Her aid was for the princes who were allied to her, her assistance, in spite of the Proclamation of Kalisch,[198] for the representatives of absolutism, “by the grace of God”, against a ruler who had emerged from the revolution. The Holy Alliance and its unholy works, the bandit congresses of Carlsbad, Laibach, Verona etc.,[199] the Russian-German persecutions of every enlightened word, as a matter of fact all politics since 1815 which were guided by Russia ought indeed to have impressed upon our memories a profound sense of gratitude. The House of Romanov, along with its diplomats, may rest assured; we will never forget this debt. As for Russia’s aid during the years 1814 and 18 15, we would sooner be susceptible to any other feeling than that of gratitude for that aid paid for with English subsidies.

The reasons are obvious for discerning minds. If Napoleon had remained victor in Germany, he would have removed at least three dozen beloved “fathers of their people” with his well-known energetic formula. French legislation and administration would have created a solid base for German unity and spared us 33 years of humiliation and the tyranny of the Federal Diet which is, of course, highly praised by Mr. Nesselrode. A few Napoleonic decrees would have completely destroyed the entire medieval chaos: the compulsory labour services and tithes, exemptions and privileges, the entire feudal and patriarchal systems which still torment us from end to end of our fatherlands. The rest of Germany would long since have reached the level which the left bank of the Rhine reached soon after the first French revolution; we would have neither Uckermark grandees nor a Pomeranian Vendée[200] and we would no longer have to inhale the stuffy air of the “historical” and “Christian-Germanic” swamps.

Russia, however, is magnanimous. Even if no gratitude is expressed, the Emperor retains as much as ever his old “benevolent as well as unselfish sentiments” towards us. Yes, “in spite of insults and challenges the attempt to change our” (Russia’s) “sentiments has not been successful”.

These sentiments manifest themselves for the time being in a “passive and watchful method”, a method in which Russia has undeniably achieved great virtuosity. She knows how to wait until the appropriate moment seems to have arrived. Notwithstanding the colossal troop movements which have taken place in Russia since March, Mr. Nesselrode is so naive as to try to make us believe that the Russian troops “remained immobile within their cantonments”. The Russian Government remains animated by sentiments of “peace and reconciliation” in spite of the classical: “Gentlemen, saddle your horses!” [Nicholas I is reported to have addressed these words to his officers after being informed that the February 1848 revolution had taken place in France] in spite of the confidential outpouring of heart and bile against the German people by Abramowicz, Chief of Police in Warsaw, and in spite of or rather because of the threatening and successful Notes from Petersburg. Russia perseveres in her “openly peaceful and defensive attitude”. In the Nesselrode circular, Russia is portrayed as patience personified and as a pious, much-maligned and insulted innocence.

We want to enumerate some of Germany’s crimes against Russia which are listed in the Note: 1. “hostile mood”, and 2. “fever of change in the whole of Germany”. Such a “hostile” mood towards so much benevolence on the part of the Tsar! How grievous this must be for the paternal heart of our dear brother-in-law. And to top it all, this execrable disease called “fever of change"! This is actually the first, albeit in this case the second, dreadfulness. From time to time Russia bestows another kind of disease upon us: the cholera. Be that as it may! Not only is this “fever of change” contagious but it often reaches such a virulent intensification that highly-placed personages are easily compelled to make hasty departures for England! [allusion to the flight of the Prince of Prussia to England during the March revolution] Was the “German fever of change” perhaps one of the reasons for dissuading Russia from an invasion in March and April? The third crime: The Pre-parliament of Frankfurt[201] has represented war against Russia as a necessity of the time. The same has happened in associations and newspapers and is all the more unpardonable since according to the clauses of the Holy Alliance and the later treaties between Russia, Austria and Prussia, we Germans are only supposed to shed our blood in the interest of the princes and not in our own interest. 4. There has been talk in Germany of reconstituting old Poland within her true borders of 1772[202]. The knout over you and then off to Siberia! But no, when Nesselrode wrote his circular, he had not yet heard of the Frankfurt Parliament’s vote on the question of incorporating Posen. Parliament has atoned for our sins and a mild, forgiving smile now howers upon the lips of the Tsar. The 5th crime of Germany: “Her regrettable war against a Nordic monarchy.” In view of the success of the menacing Note from Russia, the rapid retreat of the German army ordered by Potsdam and the declaration issued by the Prussian Ambassador in Copenhagen on the motives and purposes of the war[203], Germany deserved a milder punishment for her impertinence than would have been admissible without these circumstances. 6. “Open advocacy of a defensive and offensive alliance between Germany and France.” Lastly, 7. “The reception given to the Polish refugees, their free trips on the railways and the insurrection in the Posen region.”

If the diplomats and similar persons had not received the gift of language “so as to conceal their thoughts” [words attributed to Talleyrand] both Nesselrode and brother-in-law Nicholas would have embraced us with shouts of joy and thanked us ardently for having lured so many Poles from France, England, Belgium etc. to the Posen region and for having made it easy for them to be transported there only to have them mowed down by grape-shot and shrapnel, branded with lunar caustic, slaughtered, sent off with shorn heads etc., and, on the other hand, to exterminate them in Cracow by a treacherous bombardment, if possible completely.

And Russia, faced with these seven mortal sins of Germany, has nevertheless remained on the defensive and not taken the offensive? Yes, that’s how it is, and it is for this reason that the Russian diplomat is asking the world to admire the love of peace and the moderation of his Emperor.

The Russian Emperor’s rule of procedure “from which he has so far not deviated for one moment”, according to Mr. Nesselrode,

“is not to interfere in any way in the internal affairs of countries which want to change their organisation; on the contrary, to allow these nations complete freedom to effect the political and social experiments which they want to undertake without let or hindrance on his part, and not to attack any power which has not attacked him. On the other hand, he is determined to repel any encroachment upon his own internal security and to make sure that if the territorial balance of power is anywhere destroyed or altered, that will not be done at the expense of our own legitimate interests.”

The Russian Note forgets to add the illustrative examples. After the July revolution the Emperor assembled an army along the western frontier so as, allied with his faithful followers in Germany, to give practical proof to the French how he would allow the nations “complete freedom to effect their political and social experiments”. The fact that he was disturbed in his rule of procedure was not his fault but that of the Polish revolution of 1830[204] which gave his plans a different direction. Soon thereafter, we saw the same procedure with respect to Spain and Portugal. The evidence is his open and secret support of Don Carlos and Dom Miguel. When at the end of 1842 the King of Prussia wanted to issue a sort of constitution according to the estates’ principle, on the most comfortable “historical” basis, which had played such an admirable role with respect to the Patents of 1847,[205] it was, of course, Nicholas who would not tolerate it and thus cheated us “Christian Germans” out of the joy of having these Patents for several years. He did all this, as Nesselrode says, because Russia never interferes in the internal organisation of a country. We hardly need to mention Cracow. [206] Let us merely recall the most recent sample of the imperial “rule of procedure": the Wallachians overthrow the old Government and replace it provisionally by a new one. They want to transform the entire old system and create an organisation patterned after those of civilised nations. “So as now to let them effect their political and social experiments in Complete freedom” a Russian army corps invades the country.[207]

After that anybody can guess the nature of the application of this “rule of procedure” to Germany. But the Russian Note makes our deduction unnecessary. It reads:

“So long as the Confederation, no matter what new forms it may assume, leaves the Neighbouring states untouched, and does not seek to expand its territorial limits by force or try to assert its lawful authority beyond the limits set by the treaties, the Emperor will also respect its internal independence.”

The second passage which refers to the same subject reads still more clearly:

“If Germany should actually succeed in solving her organisational problem without detriment to her internal calm, and without the new forms impressed on her nationality being of a kind which endanger the tranquillity of other states, we shall sincerely congratulate ourselves on that for the same reasons which made us hope for her strength and unity under her previous political forms.”

But the following passage sounds most clear and removes any possible doubt; here the circular speaks of Russia’s incessant efforts to recommend and preserve harmony and unity in Germany:

Of course, we are not referring to that material unity of which a democracy addicted to a levelling and aggrandising process is dreaming today, and which, if it could realise its ambitious theories as it interprets them, would inevitably sooner or later plunge Germany into a state of war with all adjacent states, but rather to the moral unity, that sincere conformity of views and intentions in all political questions which the German Confederation had to negotiate in external affairs.
"Our policy had only one aim: to preserve this unity and to strengthen the bonds which link the German governments with each other.
"That which we wanted in those days, we still desire today.”

As one can see from the preceding passage, the Russian Government most willingly allows us moral unity, only no material unity, no replacement of the present Federal Diet by a central authority, not the mere semblance of central authority, but a genuine and seriously effective central authority based on popular sovereignty. What magnanimity!

“That which we wanted in those days” (before February 1848), we still desire today.”

That is the only phrase of the Russian Note which nobody will call in question. But we should like to tell Mr. Nesseirode that desire and fulfilment are still two separate things.

The Germans now know exactly where they stand as far as Russia is concerned. As long as the old system, painted over with new, modern colours, persists, or if one obediently moves back again to the Russian and “historical” track after having strayed from it in a “moment of intoxication and exultation”, Russia will remain “openly peaceful”.

The internal conditions of Russia, the raging cholera, the partial insurrections in individual districts, the revolution plotted in Petersburg which was, however, prevented just in time, the conspiracy inside the citadel of Warsaw, the volcanic soil of the Kingdom of Poland, [208] all these are at any rate circumstances which have contributed to the Tsar’s benevolent as well as “unselfish sentiments” towards Germany.

But of much greater influence upon the “passive and watchful method” of the Russian Government was undoubtedly the course of events in Germany proper up to the present.

Could Nicholas in person have taken better care of his affairs and carried out his intentions sooner than has up to now been done in Berlin-Potsdam, in Innsbruck, in Vienna and Prague, in Frankfurt and in Hanover and in almost every other cosy corner of our fatherland, now again filled with Russian moral unity? Have not (lunar caustic) Pfuel, Colomb and the shrapnel general [Alexander Adolf von Hirschfeld] in Posen and Windischgrätz in Prague worked so well as to enrapture the Tsar’s heart? Did not Windischgrätz. receive a brilliant letter of commendation from Nicholas via Potsdam from the hands of young Mr. Meyendorf? And do the gentlemen Hansemann-Milde-Schreckenstein in Berlin and the Radowitzes, Schmerlings and Lichnowskis in Frankfurt leave anything to be desired as far as Russia is concerned? Must not the Bieder- and Basserdom [allusion to the deputies Biedermann and Bassermann; the German word Biederkeit means “respectability"] in the Frankfurt Parliament form a soothing balm for many a pain of the most recent past? In such circumstances Russian diplomacy did not need any armies to invade Germany. It is perfectly right to be content with the “passive and watchful method”, and the just discussed Note!